Chances are that the Gospel passage (Luke 12:49-53) for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time forces us to toss aside any syrupy picture of Jesus and, consequently, it might take awhile for us to come up with a more accurate one. For starters: we have to accept the fact that the glorified body of Jesus, as he made himself present among his disciples locked in the Upper Room on Easter Day and which was taken up to heaven on Ascension Day was, still is, and will forever be the body of a Jewish man.
No blue eyes, no flowing blond locks, no sugary, (bordering on effeminate) features and no weakling affected by a languid personality. We must come up with a new image of a man who can say with passion and conviction these timeless, searing words: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. Luke 12:49-51
We might be familiar and even be emotionally attached to pictures of Jesus made by well-intentioned but ill-informed artists. Well, those images are not of the Jesus who creates this sort of divisions. Those images might belong to movies about a romanticized, glamorized Christ or be the remnants of a distant memory from a First Communion holy card.
Today, Jesus wants us to recover for ourselves those real features of his that can help us, directly and effectively, to deal with the challenges of real life situations. Today, Jesus wants us to steer clear of any image of himself that could give us an excuse for remaining unmoved before his teachings or could offer us a pretext to consider him sanitized, inoffensive and bland; or, as it is fashionable nowadays: to be a politically correct spiritual wizard and nothing more.
All this should not come as a surprise to us, if we had been paying attention to God’s Word every Sunday.
Today, too, all three readings (Jeremiah 38:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53) are totally unsettling: they speak of anguish, of death, of fire, of shedding our blood, of a most painful plunge; they mention enduring the cross, intense controversies, divisions within the same family and painful separations.
It must be abundantly clear that, confronted by Christ Jesus and by his Gospel; we cannot remain unengaged by the sidelines of life. We must also deal with the fact that we cannot stand astride the two camps present on this earth. We cannot have a foot on the side of Christ and his Church and the other foot conveniently set on whatever happens to be trendy, fashionable, profitable and politically correct. Nor can we expect to get a favorable judgment at the end of our life on earth if we, routinely, day after day, issue after issue, choice after choice, decided to be his disciples only for one hour on Sunday and check our faith and our Christian witnessing at the door of our homes, offices, places of work, social gatherings, and political arena.
We ought to realize that it is Jesus who, by his very words and actions, establishes a clear-cut division that makes it impossible to keep switching sides at our convenience. The side of Jesus is the side that is blessed until the end of time by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That side, as revealed clearly by the Lord himself, is the side held firmly by the Church, the pillar and foundation of Truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). That side is the side guided and taught by those whom, across the millennia, the Lord has appointed our shepherds and teachers.
Therefore it is preposterous and self-deceiving to claim that one is a Catholic in good standing while, in reality, picking and choosing what to believe; the same applies to whomever thinks and acts in a way inconsistent with what is held and taught by the shepherds and teachers of the Church.
God’s Word (who is Jesus himself) is too precious to be left to personal interpretation. God’s Word is preserved genuine, powerful, and fully alive only as complemented by the oral Tradition of the early Church, and embraced, understood, and lived by her throughout the centuries. It is God’s Word, then, which acts as a divine sword creating this clear-cut division between those who belong to Jesus’ family and the rest.
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints, and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
My guess is that, if today we have been following Jesus’ fiery words with sincere openness, we must feel quite wanting and have developed a sinking feeling. We would realize that we do not have nearly enough courage, resolve and trust in God to be on Jesus’ side 24/7.
This sinking feeling comes from different sources: from having lost heart before the relentless attacks on our religious freedoms; from the prospect of having to pay a stiff price for fighting on Jesus’ side and from worrying about our eternal salvation. This sinking feeling comes, for sure, from knowing all too well that we have yet to resist to the point of shedding blood. Hebrews 12:4
But, by looking at Jesus crucified and by begging the Holy Spirit to be for us the source of light, strength, and courage we shall take the decisive few steps that will set us clearly on the side of Jesus and of his Church.
Thus, today, we resolve without hesitation to persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2